How To Protect Your Passwords

God. Love. Sex. Money. These are the four most common passwords that people use, and are therefore the easiest ones for hackers, phishers and other Internet-savvy fraudsters to figure out, allowing them access to your financial information and the possible theft of your identity.

According to the CERT/CC (search) (Computer Emergency Response Team / Coordination Center), a federally funded organization based at Carnegie Mellon University (search), an estimated 80% of all network security problems are caused by bad passwords.

Using the Internet to access your financial accounts, pay bills electronically, or view your bank statements via e-mail can be risky, particularly if you don't have up-to-date computer security systems such as firewalls. But easy-to-decipher financial passwords, composed of the four most common words, birthdates or family names, just leaves an additional open door to your identity.

Never use any personal information as a password or security code, advises, a Web site that collects statistics on Internet security. That includes your name, family names, birthdates, address, telephone number, street name, car license plate number, etc. Such information is easily obtainable by fraudsters trying to guess your passwords.

Use a combination of letters, numbers and special characters. Avoid using dates (Aug2001) or simply tacking on an extra number to a common word (Password1).

Don't write your password down anywhere. Afraid you'll forget it? If you have trouble remembering complex passwords, try this advice from The Wall Street Journal. Boil down a memorable phrase or quote into a string of upper- and lowercase letters, numbers and special characters. For example, "Easy for you to say" becomes Ez4U2Say.

Change your password often, say, every month or so. Your computer may be infected with spyware programs, which track keystrokes and Internet activities on your computer. And if you've used a public computer, your password may accidentally have been saved, or someone may have watched you type it in.

To check possible passwords, visit the Password Strength (search) Meter at (search). Passwords are checked for complexity and compared with hackers' guides of common passwords. If your password isn't up to snuff, you'll be given suggestions on how to improve it.